When “Go Play In The Street!” Is Meant To Encourage

Via CityLab is a NY Times story about how the Boyle Heights community in Los Angeles has recently hosted a “play street.” The program, which apparently started in London, shuts down a street to provide kids with a place to play.

A quick glance on the web shows that both NYC and Seattle have similar programs. I am sure there are more cities participating. They both have some good best practices guidelines.

NYC has put together a listing of organizations that will go to play street events in different parts of the city to provide a whole range of services from dance class, bike lessons, double-dutch workshops, healthy cooking demonstrations, music lessons, etc, etc.  Programs like this are a great opportunity for an arts and culture organizations to make themselves more accessible to the community–including talking with people to learn about how to become more accessible to them.

You may have read in the news that residents of Boyle Heights have been actively opposing galleries which opened in the neighborhood, seeing galleries as harbingers of gentrification which will eventually displace them. A few galleries have decided to close as a result.

The tension between both wanting and fearing improvements to the neighborhood is evident in the NY Times article.

“There’s a difference between making something beautiful to sell it and making it useful,” said Leonardo Vilchis, co-director of Union de Vecinos. “So the question is, can we make this place more livable for people living here now?”

With tensions about gentrification running high, the community’s decision to embrace the play street concept was not a casual one.


The residents chose Fickett Street with the intention of providing a safe space not just for children but for the community, said Chelina Odbert, KDI’s co-founder and executive director.

“What a play street is not is a replacement for permanent parks,” she said. “But it bridges the gap in a way that’s really needed.”

Even before I read the line about play streets not being a replacement for a park, I was hoping the city didn’t see closing off a street for play an acceptable substitute for a park. There is a lot of conversation about neighborhood which are food deserts, but there are probably a lot of social benefit deserts for things like play out there as well.

In the last couple years a small herd of boys has started ranging across the lawns of the neighborhood acting out various scenarios. I made it clear to their parents that I had no objection to picking up nerf darts when I mowed and having their “dead” bodies strewn across my lawn because it meant that they weren’t inside watching TV or playing video games. (In fact, as I write this, there are kids hiding behind my house.)

Provided there are sufficient traffic controls to make it safe, it would be a good sign if neighborhoods exercised their communal will to create an environment where kids can safely play in the streets without overt barriers.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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